Dropbox isn't a backup solution

On a post I wrote last week about Streak for GMail I included a screenshot. That screenshot was showing off Streak's functionality, but it featured an email I received from Dropbox.

Dropbox has a really handy feature called Selective Sync. With this, you can choose to only have certain sub-folders synced on a given computer. I've got an old(er) Dell laptop that I use for QuickBooks. It's from 2010, but a couple years ago I bumped up the RAM to 8GB and installed a 120GB solid state hard drive. While the performance boost was amazing, the small hard drive meant I had to be more proactive about managing free space. So, even before Dropbox bumped up the Pro accounts to 1TB, I couldn't sync all of my sub-folders to the PC.

Fast forward to last week and Selective Sync is the subject of an email. Here's the first paragraph.

We're reaching out to let you know about a Selective Sync issue that affected a small number of Dropbox users. Unfortunately, some of your files were deleted when the Dropbox desktop application was shut down or restarted while you were applying Selective Sync settings.

One strange thing about the email is that I haven't made any changes to Selective Sync in weeks. I think I removed one folder on my PC last month when I started to run out of hard drive space. So, unless somebody was making unauthorized changes to my account...from my PC, they took a very long time to let me know about this issue.

The result?

dropboxemail

As you can see, they lost almost 150 of my pictures. Had these been my only copies, it's very possible I'd be losing my mind right now. It's a good time to remind you, and myself, that Dropbox isn't a backup solution. It's a really handy way to sync your files across multiple devices, but it's not a backup solution. A service like Dropbox makes sure all of the sub-folders in your account are identical. While that's handy when you need to make sure the files on your computer are available on your phone...it also means the files you delete on your computer also get deleted from your phone.

I've had far too many backup failures over the years. I've had external drives fall off my desk (thanks kids), CD's and DVD's get scratched or just plain stop working, and countless internal hard drives meet an untimely demise. I have lost music, movies, photos, and work documents. It doesn't take too many of these to realize that any one backup solution isn't enough.

So, before I hop down off my backup soapbox, let me offer a few tips. These are important to keep your own files safe. It's that much more important when you are also responsible for your client's files too.

  1. Have an external drive at your desk that is set to backup your files (at least) daily. If your internal drives fails, this will be the fastest way to recover your files.
  2. Syncing services like Dropbox, Box, or SugarSync are great to keep files in sync. If you are robbed or you lose your internal and external drives in a fire, pulling down your files from these services will be the next fastest way to recover your data.
  3. Setup an offline backup solution. I use Backblaze, but there are several options here like CrashPlan or Carbonite that provide cloud-based backup, or you could even have another external drive that you keep at a friend or family member's house.

There are also plenty of other tips that are media specific. I'm super paranoid about losing photos, so I have an app (CameraSync) on my phone. Every time I take a picture, it automatically uploads the photo to Dropbox, Flickr, and Google Drive. Since I also sync Dropbox and Google Drive to my desktop and laptop...and then backup my computer daily, there are all sorts of copies of my important files. Lots of devices and cloud services would all have to collapse before I needed to worry about losing my files.

Alright, hoping off the soapbox now. Be careful out there kids.

Streak for GMail

I wanted to finish up the week of picks with something that covers one of the most frustrating topics I can think of...email. 20+ years after getting my first email address and I still haven't figured out the perfect system. The part of me that grew up with apps like Eudora and Outlook longs for the folder structure and advanced features of a desktop app. The part of me that has been using iPhones, OSX, and Chrome for the past several years prefers the ubiquity of GMail's web client. It seems to be a constant arms race to see which side will win my attention, so anytime I find a utility that makes this part of my workload easier it gets my full attention.

Today my pick is Streak for GMail. The truly ridiculous part of this pick is the fact that I'm only using one or two of the features available...and not even the main features. I think this is an add-on I'd like to do a full post on in the future. For now I'd just like to tell you about the features I'm using.

Streak is a full (free) CRM solution that plugs right into GMail. Once installed you can setup departments, projects, and stages to track any actionable email that shows up in your inbox. This can be really powerful. You can setup different departments (sales, marketing, support) that get shared with different members of your team. If most of your new tasks first show up in email, and you want to keep your task management right inside GMail, this is a great system. I've used Streak's full set of features on a few occasions, and it's very easy to use. I'm a diehard OmniFocus user though, so I don't really have the need for a separate task management system.

The first feature I use quite a lot is "Send Later".

sendlater

There are a few reasons you'd want to use this. If you do a lot of late night work like I do, you might end up sending a lot of emails to clients or colleagues at 1:00am. This is usually not an issue...but there's always a chance you're sending one of these to someone who forgot to mute their phone. Suddenly they're getting a loud email notification on the phone 3 feet from their head while they're trying to sleep. Ok, probably not usually an issue, but "send later" will let you schedule all of these late night emails for 8:00am.

The biggest way I use this is as a reminder to my future self. I'll email myself something like "check to see if customer x's payment showed up" and schedule it for next week. A week later I'll have a new email in my inbox with the helpful reminder.

Earlier this year Streak added a new feature that really got my attention.

Snooze:

emailsnooze

Email snooze lets you send an email out of your inbox, only to have it reappear at a later date. The one handy additional setting here is the checkbox "Only if no one replies". I use this in one of two ways.

First, if I send an email to someone where I am expecting a response, I will snooze this for x days and check the box. If they reply before x days I can follow up and the email won't show up again to remind me. However, if I don't get a response, the email will reappear in my inbox to remind me to check back with the recipient.

Second, I will snooze an email I receive if I don't have time to properly deal with it in the moment. Like, for example, this email in the screenshot I got from Dropbox informing me they lost some of my files (oops). I need to figure out if/where my other backups are before I completely freak out, so I'm going to have this pop back to the top of my inbox tomorrow.

Sometimes I want to clean up my inbox so all that remains are the things I can deal with today. Other times I'm waiting for additional information before I can respond so I'll push it out a day or two. That way it shows up at the top of my inbox at a later date, and avoids getting buried at the bottom of the pile.

Alternatives

There are 2 other services that I've used in the past for this.

NudgeMail - This one is not only free, but dead simple to use. Let's say you want to remind yourself of something on Monday. Here's what you do.

To: monday@nudgemail.com Subject: Don't forget to do xyz. SEND

Yep, that's it. You can also send the email to nudge@nudgemail.com and use Monday as the subject. Either way on Monday you'll get back the contents of the email. The one limitation here is that it doesn't support attachments. If, for some reason, you really need to have an attachment here I'd suggest including a link to a file stored in Dropbox or Google Drive instead.

Boomerang - Boomerang is another GMail add-on with similar features. It adds a button to your GMail UI, similar to how Streak does. It's free for up to 10 uses per month. If you want to use it more often there are paid tiers. Personal is $4.99/m and gives you unlimited uses with an @gmail.com address. If, like me, you have GMail setup with your domain, Pro is $14.99/m...which also gives you recurring reminders. There's a $49.99/m plan too but that seems crazy for a GMail add-on, no matter what features they include.

Streak

CSV2QBO

This week I'm sharing some of my favourite utilities. On Monday I shared my love of ChronoMate. Today we're going to talk about a little app called CSV2QBO.

This is definitely one of those apps that does one thing well. This is about as niche as you can get.

What is it?

CSV2QBO is a file conversion application from Propersoft. It runs on Mac and Windows, and it's sole purpose is to convert csv files to qbo files. I'll explain these formats in a minute. Going against my frugal nature...this isn't a free app. It's actually $47, but it has saved me so much time it's easily paid for itself a few times over.

Why?

If the title didn't immediately click for you, let's break this down a little.

One of the biggest frustrations is trying to import data into QuickBooks. Importing lists is fairly straightforward, but what if I want to bring in transactions? You can always setup your bank accounts to download transactions, but what if you need to import really old transactions? Or, in my case, maybe you've already got the data in another app like Xero. If only there was a way to turn these transactions into something QB thought was a bank download...

QuickBooks brings in bank transactions with files that have a qbo extension. They're similar to a spreadsheet but specifically formatted for QB. If you can download transactions directly from your bank online then you can probably get them in this qbo format...which makes this utility pointless.

Importing from Xero.

Here's a real-life example I've had to deal with recently. I had customer data in Xero. We are currently making a switch from Xero back to QB and I needed to bring in the full fiscal year. The earlier months of the fiscal year are no longer available for download from the bank, but I have all the details I need in Xero. I generate an "Account Transactions" report in Xero and choose the first bank account on my list. I select the proper dates, and choose to export this as an Excel file.

Next I open the file in Excel, do a little formatting to clean it up, and save it as a .csv. A .csv, or comma-separated values file has all the data in a regular Excel file without all the extra formatting Office software likes to add.

Now it's time to open this file in CSV2QBO.

CSV2QBO screenshot

This screenshot is from the Windows version. I've been using this since before the move to Mac. It's one of the very few Windows apps I still run. As you can see, it's a very plain looking Windows app. You navigate to the csv file you want to convert and open it in CSV2QBO. Review the imported data to make sure the columns are mapped out properly and click Save. That's it. You now have a qbo file *just as though you had downloaded it from your bank.

  • Ok, not quite. When you download, let's say, January 2013's transactions from your bank, the qbo file will include details of the bank and account number. This will be important soon.

Now it's time to bring the data into QuickBooks.

QB import menu

As you see from the screenshot, you're going to want to manually import this qbo or "web connect file". Select the qbo file you just created, and *follow through the instructions. Once you're done you will have all of these transactions imported and ready for you to categorize.

*There are a few weird steps you need to take in order to get this done properly which probably aren't interesting unless you're actually trying to pull this off. Please email me if you plan to do this and I can walk you through the full process.

If you aren't a bookkeeper, or you don't deal with QB this app might not make any sense. If, however, you do work in QuickBooks and want to be able to import transactions...this little app is a huge time saver. It's not much to look at and it's a little pricey for a one-trick pony, but the time you'll save will pay for the app in no time.

If you have a better way to do this, please let us all know in the comments.